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Transfer catcher Max Kaufer details decision to commit to South Carolina, aims to 'bring a national championship to Columbia'

Griffin Goodwynby:Griffin Goodwyn07/09/24

It was a 6-5 ball game. Tennessee pitcher Aaron Combs had just thrown a wild pitch, which brought home a run to score. Texas A&M infielder Ted Burton, who was standing in the batters’ box, was now the game-tying run.

But the next ball Combs threw would be the last of the college baseball season. He got Burton to swing and miss on a pitch down and away to end the game, and Volunteers were champions of the 2024 College World Series.

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Max Kaufer was one of dozens of onlookers in the Aggies’ dugout who witnessed Tennessee’s on-field celebrations after that game. In that moment, Kaufer immediately thought about his older teammates.

“I was thinking about… the seniors that gave everything to our team, and really sacrificed so much in order for us to be in that type of situation. Guys who aren’t really going to get a shot at college baseball again,” Kaufer told GamecockCentral. “Just my gratitude for them and, really, how much they helped me grow as a person and as a player — that’s initially where my head went.”

The subject of those thoughts quickly changed to his own future shortly after the team returned to College Station from Omaha. Just one day after Texas A&M’s championship loss, the team’s manager, Jim Schlossnagle, departed the program to take a head coaching job at Texas.

“If my mind wasn’t completely on my future before that, as soon as I saw that, that’s when it completely shifts to, ‘Oh God, what’s my plan?'” Kaufer said.

Kaufer said he had a flight back home to New Jersey the next day. Before his flight home, he called the Aggies’ compliance office to officially enter the transfer portal. He also texted his parents to inform them of his decision.

15 seconds later, he received a call from South Carolina recruiting coordinator Terry Rooney, who expressed interest in having Kaufer join the program.

Unlike most recruits, Kaufer did not go on an official visit before committing to the Gamecocks because he was already familiar with the university and the city. Kaufer and his parents explored Columbia during Texas A&M’s roadtrip to the city for its series against South Carolina on April 5-7.

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“There was college visits going on for high school seniors, so me and my parents were following around those tour groups just out of genuine curiosity,” Kaufer said. “I knew when South Carolina offered me that I didn’t have to take a visit. I had a great idea of the landscape and campus.”

Although he did not receive a private tour, Kaufer said he was impressed by the quality of the Gamecocks’ facilities.

“When we got to South Carolina for our first practice and we’re walking into the stadium, everyone’s jaws just dropped. It’s an unbelievably beautiful stadium,” Kaufer said. “It’s well kept, and it’s just incredible.”

The Gamecocks’ coaching staff also played a role in Kaufer’s decision to commit to South Carolina, he said.

“(Paul Mainieri is) someone who’s got a ton of history in the game. I’ve only heard great things about him. He’s got a winning history, obviously. And then the guys he surrounds himself with, like Coach (Monte) Lee and Coach Rooney,” Kaufer said. “There’s not much more you can say other than, ‘Yes,’ when those guys are interested in me.”

In two seasons at Texas A&M, Kaufer slashed .194/.266/.376 and accumulated two home runs, 20 runs scored, and 17 RBIs. He served as the Aggies’ primary backstop during the second half of the team’s 2023 campaign — his freshman year — but saw his playing time diminish last year, as he played a backup role.

Kaufer showed flashes of potential in that small sample size last year, though. He slashed .250/.516/.500 through 20 at bats, launched one home run, and drove in five runs.

Kaufer said he has worked on becoming a smarter situational hitter over the past year.

“Just being a smart hitter at the plate. Understanding what I’m going to get and how I’m going to handle it in different situations. You know, runner on third, less than two outs,” Kaufer said. “I think I’ve become a very, very good player at executing in those types of situations.”

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Kaufer added that he is both sound and aggressive on defense. He had a .991 fielding percentage and has committed just four errors in his college career.

But off the field, Kaufer said he aims to be a leader for the team, especially as an incoming transfer with experience playing in the SEC.

“Coach Mainieri made it clear to me that he’s going to want me to be a leader. And what does that look like? I think it looks different in a lot of cases,” Kaufer said. “There are some guys who are very vocal, and there are some guys who lead by example. I just really hope to lead by example and be lighthearted and show my teammates how much fun we can have together. Just really create a bond, more than anything, and become best friends.”

This upcoming season, Kaufer will follow in the footsteps of Cole Messina, South Carolina’s backstop of the past two years who will join the professional ranks this summer. Kaufer said his goal is to garner the same accolades Messina did, namely a Johnny Bench Award.

“Obviously, he did great things for the Gamecocks in his three years. I would love to win the Johnny Bench Award,” Kaufer said. “That’s been my goal, and that will continue to be my goal.”

Ultimately, Kaufer said he hopes to help South Carolina win its third national championship and first in over a decade.

“I’ve gotten a taste of what that’s like being in Omaha and, really, being one pitch away from a national championship. It’s an incredible feeling. And, more so than the actual accolade of winning, what you get on the way to a national championship is an absolute bond and friendships created with your teammates that is priceless,” Kaufer said. “That’s really what I’m looking to make and create more than anything.”

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